Will Nintendo’s new gaming console be worth the Switch?

I haven’t bought a videogame system in years, but if I do – it’s going to be the Switch.

If Nintendo manages to nail the hardware, the price, and the battery life – it does something that I have only dreamed of: They end the separation between console and portable gaming.

For someone who has lived through and loved both – it’s a pretty big deal to me.

As you’ve guessed, consoles haven’t been a big part of my life. My slide away from consoles was so gradual that I almost didn’t notice it. In my late teens, I lived in a sharehouse without a TV. Then I travelled for a while. I started playing more games on my phone or indie games on Steam. I tried my best – had a brief dalliance with an Xbox 360 – but I always had to make time and space for console gaming.

So what happens when time and space are no longer major barriers? What happens when multiplayer isn’t just online, but also offline – when we play in the same space? What happens when you bring something conventionally in our homes into public spaces?

While I was watching the announcement video – I was thinking about a concept someone mentioned once, convergence.

In academic circles, convergence is a pretty amorphous, flawed, and outdated idea. However, it is useful as a way to frame our expectations and understandings of technology.

Think about devices like the iPhone, the Surface Pro, the iPad Pro, or any of the plethora of touchscreen laptops out there. They’re all hybrids. They’re modular – you can remove the screen or dock or pair a keyboard over wireless. Your phone isn’t just a phone, it’s a way of passing the time, it’s a map, it’s a camera, it’s an organiser, it’s a secondary form of memory, it’s a way to create identity or associate (think social media). The device becomes a convergence point.

Nintendo Switch Console, two Joy-Cons and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, all in one image. Polygon

Nintendo Switch Console, two Joy-Cons and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, all in one image. Polygon

When you remove it from its dock, keeping the side controllers attached, the Switch turns from a console into handheld. You pull out the kick stand, prop it up on a table, remove the controllers, and the Switch turns into a portable console. You give a half of the controller to a friend and you’re playing co-op next to eachother. Do that with two Switches, and you’ve got four people huddled around in a circle playing games. Not only do you have a convergence of technology, but a convergence of playing style.

With this flexibility, videogames become a bigger part of our everyday lives. We’ve seen multiplayer move from the living room, to the LAN café, to the online server, and it isn’t so much a full circle than a spectrum. For gaming experiences to exist on spectrum – rather than as a binary of THIS or THAT – play becomes unrestricted.

For me, the preferred way to game is on a television. That’s the way I grew up. The appeal has always been social play and experiencing something in real time, in the same space. Some of my best memories involved friends, a PS2, couches, pizza, copious amounts of Mountain Dew, and Halo II. Sometimes I think about my obsessive run-throughs of Metal Gear Solid on PS One or playing WipeOut 2097 until the wee hours of the morning on my parent’s TV.

While I loved to play games on PC, or my Nintendo DS or my PlayStation Portable, the console experience was always my favourite. And now the console experience isn’t just simulated, like in PlayStation Remote Play, it becomes native.

I think this quote that Dave Tach summarises it perfectly, “The secret sauce of the [Nintendo] Switch is that you don’t have to choose a handheld. You get one when you buy it.”

I believe that the best devices make what seemed impossible, possible. I think we’ve been stuck too long in having our consoles being home consoles and our portable devices being portable. Through sheer design elegance, an innovative interface, and hardware power, the iPhone shattered the barriers between a computer and the phone. It created a new class of consumer.

That’s what the Switch is going to do and if it succeeds – it is going to absolutely change the way we play games. And by changing the way we play games, it’s going to change the how we think about games. And that’s what I’m really excited about.

The Nintendo Switch's GameCard. (Goodbye, discs!). Polygon

The Nintendo Switch’s GameCard. (Goodbye, discs!). Polygon

What we do know:

We don’t know:

  • If it has a touchscreen
  • If it has a stylus
  • If we can stream video on it
  • If it has connectivity or motion control

 

Posted in Blog, Games, In the News, Technology